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Eat, Drink, Repeat: Culinary Discovery & Misadventure in Central Ohio

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Archive for the ‘Road Trip’ Category

Carl’s Townhouse – Chillicothe

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 24, 2016

Carls

My previous Chillicothe visits included: seeing Tecumseh! the outdoor drama, writing about a restaurant for Ohio Magazine in 1998, visiting two donut spots and picking up the vanity at Lowe’s (the only one in inventory for the whole state). Back when I was a government drone my job often took me to the Chillicothe Veterans Administration Hospital (which has roots going back to World War I) but duty to fix problems and ethical responsibility did not allow me to take side trips to explore the area. I never really explored the city or the downtown. Considering Chillicothe was once a state capital and it is fun to say and more importantly considering all of the other places in the state I have explored on a whim, Chillicothe was overdue for an extended trip.

I’m not sure of the exact series of searches that popped Carl’s onto my laptop screen but it was probably related to doing a search related to Family Donut Shoppe. I’m glad I did pay attention to Carl’s and felt the pull to make this my reason to head south. I enjoyed driving the streets of downtown Chillicothe looking at many 1880’s era buildings and small local shops while searching for Carl’s.

I scouted out Carl’s on various review sites and found almost universal love for the place and in particular their burgers. I lured along one of my research assistants, the grumpy old man, with promises of a trip to Family Donut Shoppe afterwards as well as a recon trip to McArthur Ohio. Within moments of arrival to Carl’s the grumpy old man was also pleased. Carl’s is the kind of diner that every community needs. A simple place with straightforward food where regulars come to catch up with each other as well as the events of the day. More diners could help Make America great again.

Having a research assistant allowed me to do extensive food research. I’ll start with the hamburgers. The trademark menu item here are slider style hamburgers. The burgers were much bigger and thicker than a White Castle slider. Students of hamburger history (such as myself) would recognize this as the typical burger of the 1940’s – 1960’s. Neither too big nor too small with a lumpy instead of perfectly formed patty and when paired with fries, a very satisfying meal. The burgers are great and I highly suggest them. I ordered the double cheeseburger basket (two double cheeseburgers and fries).

Double cheeseburger basket

As a student of hot dog history as well as a staunch hot dog advocate, I ordered a chili dog to boot. I was pleased with the presentation here. The bun was lightly grilled, the hot dog was split in the middle to aid grilling as well as chili retention. The chili was definitely homemade with a distinct flavor to it. Overall it was better than average.

chili dog

The grumpy old man ordered the pork tenderloin sandwich. I was happy to see this on the menu. Many years ago I did extensive research on regional sandwiches around the USA for a book project. I spent a week traveling around the Midwest trying out the best pork tenderloin sandwiches in Iowa, Indiana and Illinois which is the heartland of this regional delicacy. I found this version true to style. It was properly breaded and sufficiently – as is the tradition – much bigger than the bun it was served on. More points for Carl’s.

tenderloin sandwich

My favorite item of the lot was also my biggest surprise. I saw apple strudel written on the specials board and ordered that out of curiosity. It turned out to be Apple Strudel Pie! Even the grumpy old man, with his girl-like appetite, found room to take a bite and found it pleasing to the palate as well.

apple strudel pie

One of the things that makes Carl’s a destination is the character of the place which comes from a long history in the community. When I work with clients, I often share with them how important sharing the history of a business is to customer loyalty. Carl’s does a great job in this category by sharing their history on the menu. As a local landmark, this is important, so I photographed that history to share with you below.

part 1

part 2

To wrap it all up. Carl’s is an iconic diner that dishes out breakfast, lunch, dinner and an extensive list of daily specials at affordable prices. If you find yourself in Chillicothe, this is well worth a visit. If you have a few extra minutes walk across the street to the antique shop and see if this trinket is still around. Even though it was $375 I was very tempted to take it home with me. If you are not familiar with the gentleman below, it is J. Wellington Wimpy. A personal hero of mine with an even greater affinity for hamburgers, he is best known for his insightful philosophy, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” If you fetch Wimpy for me today, I’ll gladly pay you back with a burger on Tuesday.

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Carl's Town House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in Diners, hamburgers, hot dogs, Ohio, Road Trip | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Ohio Donut Trail: Penny’s Pastries, Logan

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 21, 2016

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Buried deep inside of the Ohio Revised Code, I have a hunch that there is some type of mandate on requirements for small Ohio towns. If I was to guess, it may read something like this, any county seat as well towns numbering over 1500 citizens or greater should ensure the following are located near the city center: Statue honoring a civil war hero, a small park with benches, a traffic circle or small area of one way streets and a bakery. Penny’s Pastries ensures that Logan Ohio meets those standards.

Penny’s is a small, homey, full service bakery that offers a small number of donuts each day. While not the mainstay of the business, donuts are an important enough feature to warrant displaying them in the front window (so customers can see if any are left) and prominent placement of the production schedule at the front door. In addition to donuts they offer cakes, muffins, cookies, etc. Donuts typically sell out quickly so it is suggest you arrive as close to the 6 am opening time as possible to get the best selection. Although I have not tried one, the peanut butter creme filled donuts appears to be their biggest crowd pleaser.

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Penny’s Pastries Bakery
Address: 81 E Main St, Logan, OH 43138
Phone:(740) 385-5190

Posted in donuts, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Archives: BNA Gourmand, RoadFood Tour with Jane and Michael Stern

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 19, 2016

These events occurred on April 28th, 2007 mostly as recorded. 

In league with Philville Phil, president of the the Columbus Men’s Supper Gang, I journeyed to Nashville, TN to do a dining tour with Jan and Michael Stern of Roadfood.com, Gourmet Magazine and countless books. It was a treat. Along with a busload of 50 foodies, the Sterns, the Roadfood web team, and a German documentary film crew we hit four places and discussed many others.

There was also a group that hit four places in the morning (and a few of them did the afternoon tour with us as well). Below is a description of the morning tour.

“The morning tour will start at 8am at the Loveless Cafe for a classic Tennessee breakfast, including legendary biscuits and homemade preserves. We will then hop in the bus and head into the country towards Franklin and a visit to Merridees Bread Basket for delicious pastries, breads and pimiento cheese sandwiches. Next stop: Pucket’s Grocery, an old-time meat-and-three and barbecue cafe with some of the most succulent pulled pork anywhere. We then return to Nashville for lunch at the ultra-bountiful Belle Meade Cafeteria“.

The rendevous and collection point for the afternoon group was at the Loveless Cafe. This place is famous for food and country music, several up and coming stars have played here on the way to fame. We had a small snack at the country store in the parking lot since the wait time to dine was over an hour.

Documentary Crew

We were trailed by a German TV documentary film crew throughout our trip. I believe I was quoted a couple times, I hope that made it on the cutting room floor (I, like the Amish and some Native Americans do not like to be photographed).

Prince's Hot Chicken

Prince’s Hot Chicken was our first stop. We overwhelmed the small, strip mall establishment with 50 or more people. This is fried chicken dipped in hot sauce or hot, hot, hot sauce. This type of chicken is unique to a small section on Nashville. We ordered the medium – which was very hot even after dabbing with a piece of white bread. Our companions that ordered the hot – were hard pressed to eat much of the chicken due to the heat level. But with a lot of pop and dabbing with some white bread – we got the hot heat down to aid consumption. I do not know how much the employees get paid – I think they may work for free just to watch people suffer from the hot and very hot sauces. However, the hot sauce opened up more digestive “living space” for a lot more food to come.

Hot Chicken

Here is another version of the trip from the Dallas News, including a quote from the Gourmand….

“Jim Ellison, of Columbus, Ohio, tells me I should think of this tour as a marathon. Toward the end, he promises, I would get a second wind. Jim, who runs an ice cream blog, speaks from experience. I remember his advice as we walk up to Swett’s, a spotless meat-and-three, soul-food cafeteria.”

Swetts

We then hit Swett’s, a Meat and three (or two or four) buffet. This was distinctly average food in a typical strip mall with cafeteria style ambiance. The place is typical of the meat and three buffet. Multiple second and third tier celebrities plaster the wall with accolades for the place – so I think the stop was appropriate for the trip. Also – where else can you feed a busload of 50+ people?

Monell's

We saved the best for last! Monell’s is old school, family style dining in a beautiful home in the Germantown section of Nashville. Everything was great and it was amazing that we could eat at all at that point – but we did – including some wonderful desserts. I was able to sit next to Michael Stern and the Roadfood web team and talk food and food writing for the meal (so of course I plugged Columbus for an Ice Cream tour and more). We all shared nicely, passed plates and spent the evening like it was a Thanksgiving supper with family. The staff were wonderful as well. If you go – reservations are critical!

All of the above are shots from Monell’s

On the way home that night, with no agenda in sight – we decided some ice cream was in order to sooth our bloated bellies. We called Philville Phil’s wife Jean, who was kind enough to do some quick internet research and guide us to Bobbie’s Dairy Whip – voted as Nashville’s favorite ice cream shop. We got some twist cones and fries and called it a night.

On the way home the next morning, we made a side trip to Louisville so I could introduce Phil to

Lynn’s Paradise Cafe.

Here is a shot of the breakfast menu – these items were featured on The Food Network with Bobby Flay – Kentucky Farmhouse Scramble (everything but the sink) and Bourbon Ball French Toast. Phil had the Louisville Hot Brown – the signature sandwich of the town. My favorite was the Derby Pie Milkshake. The people sitting next to us at the bar had some wonderful homefries that I was eyeing the whole time. When they left – barely touching their food, Phil dared me to sample the homefries….. All I can say they were the best I have ever had and our server respected my gumption and dedication to recycling.

This is a Louisville Hot Brown – Philville Phil’s favorite new sandwich.

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Archives: WI Gourmand

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 19, 2016

In August (2006) I journeyed to Wisconsin. On the way, with a tip from Road Food, I stopped in West Layfayette, IN (Perdue University) to eat at the Triple XXX Restaurant. The place is a university landmark. It is named for a root beer company that is basically gone now. They still serve Triple XXX root beer and a hamburger with peanut butter on it. Yep – peanut butter. The food was average and I pressed on.

Next stop was Madison, WI (well, after a Tornado Warning, check engine warning light, and 100’s of miles). I sampled several New Glarus Beers – including the popular Spotted Cow and Fat Squirrel. New Glarus is a small town southwest of Madison. The New Glarus beer has won many awards but their desire to maintain the quality of their beer and lower production keeps it mostly in Wisconsin. My Madison hosts, the Parrantos, were big fans and so was I after a few. I was even prompted to liberate a New Glarus pint glass from a local watering hole. My other Madison food adventures included Babcock Hall for a taste of the famous ice cream the University of Wisconsin churns out – it was good. I also took a quick tour the production facility. I had kosher old fashioned donuts hot out of the oven from Greenbush Bakery – SO YUMMY. The Great Dane Brewing Company (123 E. Doty St.) was a great dinner destination for a bison burger, African stew, and a taste of brats. And afterwards, I sadly had to smell, but not eat the great Ethioipan food from Baraka (State St.) near the UW campus. My only disappointment was Ella’s Deli – a well known spot in Madison, famous for ice cream and it’s eclectic decor. The place is very kid friendly with all types of trinkets, gadets, and knick knacks to keep grandparents and kids entertained – but the food was distinctly average and more than moderately priced.

In Mt Horeb, Wisconsin, I visited the Mustard Museum

Mustard Museum

– Mustard Museum –

The Mustard Museum has over 4000 mustards on display and about 500 available for sale, including 3 that are made by the museum. In addition to plenty of free samples, there are interesting posters, momentos, and displays about the history of mustard, mustard pop culture as well as many mustard related items that one would never imagine. The place is well worth the visit.

Museum

I met the CMO (Chief Mustard Officer) Barry Levenson . I really enjoyed speaking with him. The seed for the Mustard Museum was planted when the Red Sox lost the World Series in the 80’s. As he wandered around in despair, he decided he needed something to do as a hobby and picked up a new mustard in a store – then the collection started to grow. Barry is also a lawyer and he has written a very good book about Food and the Law called Habeas Codfish, which he was nice enough to sign for me. Mt. Horeb also has a great bike trail, a good brew pub and also happens to be the troll capital of the world. There are carved wooden trolls everywhere.

However, the reason for my Wisconsin adventure was farther north in the little town of Princeton. I went to the Burning Down the Fox BBQ Championship where I was doing my first gig as a Kansas City BBQ Society certifed BBQ judge. It was great fun and a very good festival. I stayed the night at the Ellison Gray Lion Inn (no relation – but they offered to adopt me) where I had great company and really good Strawberry French Toast.

And I forgot my whirlwind Custard tour of the Milwaukee surburbs with Shannon Jackson Arnold – Churnologist for Breyer’s Ice Cream and my writing good fairy. In about one hour we hit Le Ducs in Wales, WI, Divino Gelato Cafe (excellent gelato and very nice owner) in Waukesha, Oscars – near Waukesha, and Kopps Frozen Custard. Many feel Kopps is the best in Wisconsin – so far I agree. I did not have enough room in my belly to go the Michaels Custard in Madison, but by report – they are in the top five as well.

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Archives: MEL Gourmand

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 19, 2016

There is a special place in my soul for OZ even though I was there there 6 times from 1989 to 2008 for a total of 4 1/2 months. Australia is my second home. Unfortunately they didn’t need any food writers or government bureaucrats (I tried and finally gave up). I’ve been to every state, territory and major city by foot, horse, train, bus, car and plane with the only area untouched the coastal strip from Darwin to Broome.

These are a few of my favorite things.

The Yarra Valley

One of the great wine producing regions in the world. This is an incredible way to spend a day or two with good friends – tour more than one dozen wineries in the area – sampling all day long. My favorite wine of them all is –

Fortified Shiraz

Yering Station Fortified Shiraz

19.8% Alcohol

Yering.com

Another favorite winery was –

Green Point

Maroondah HWY
Coldstrem 3770 Vic

61 3 9739 1110

Open 10:30 AM – 4:30 PM

But there is much more to do in the area –

The Yarra Valley Dairy offers hand-made cheeses and rich homemade organic ice cream as well as coffee, desserts and excellent views. It is located on McMeikans Rd. at Yering and is open from 10.30 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. every day except Friday and Saturday when it is open to 10.00 p.m.

tel: (03) 9739 0023.

Yarra Valley Dairy website

Also not so far away…..
Pig & Whistle Tavern
At Bayview Estate
365 Purves Road
MAIN RIDGE, 3928

(03) 5989-6130

Pig & Whistle Tavern

Pig and Whistle

 

A perfect pub, in the perfect place with great pub grub, fine service, and a winery in the back staffed by an owner that graduated from the University of Michigan. Plus some B & B rooms if you want to stick around.

signs

Another ign

Portsea, (Victoria)

The Grand Hotel is a landmark on the Mornington Peninsula. Built over 100 years ago, The Grand Hotel has a great restaurant, a fine bar, and pefect seaside view.

Grand Hotel web site

Melbourne

 

Mihn Mihn (Vietnamese Cuisine)
94 Victoria St.
Richmond

(03) 9427 7891
Mutiny at the Mihn Mihn

In a nut shell – we refused to leave our table. In spite of a reservation – the owner wanted us in and out within 20 minutes. However we had 3 bottles of wine to drink. Our party consisted of the Gourmand, Ms. Mandy Culph (famous Dingley chick and supermodel), Dan Brindle (King of the Southern hemisphere ) and Katie Murray (my favorite Brit). We refused to accept the rushed service and revolted. In a series frantic of trips, every 1-2 minutes various staff came begging for us to eat faster. They lived in fear of the restaurant owner. When they graciously offered to let us finish our meal in the kitchen after saying they did not serve dessert – we declined. When they tried to sit diners at our table – while we were still eating the main course – we declined. Then the dragon lady owner came – (her famous quote “you are rich, I am poor”), we would not leave. When we did leave, after allowing ourselves about 37 minutes to eat a good meal and drink three bottles of wine while debating the merits of civil disobedience vs. open violence about this situation, the entire restaurant clapped for us because we held our ground (one of the most memorable experiences of my life). We forced the scared bus boy to take a generous tip and told him not to let the owner steal it from him. The food was great – we can never go back. Oh by the way, we were not drunk, that happened about 12 minutes and 1 cab ride later.

Bihn Mihn
40 Victoria St
Richmond 3121 VIC
(03) 9421 3802

Even better Vietnamese food, great service and in spite of two drunken Aussie gals and a brit chick singing karaoke without a machine or music – we were not asked to leave. (I was well behaved.)

Queen Victoria Market
513 Elizabeth Street
Melbourne, 3000

61 3 9320 5822
This giant vendors market has it all: butchers, fishmongers, vegetables galore fruits, wine shops, incredible cheeses, aromatherapy, arts, crafts, bargain clothing and hucksters. There are also regular lectures by leading chefs, market tours, music and more. Built in 1878, the Market consists of several historic buildings which are visited by over 100,000 shoppers each week.

Handorf’s Fine Chocolates

884 Glenhuntly Road

Caulfield South

03 9525 6639

(Many locations – well executed Bavarian Chocolates)

And the Melbourne Cup! A week of tradition, horseracing, hats, heat, and more. I was there for the Makybe Diva win in 2005 and bet on her to win – which meant I won enough money to pay for a very nice dinner the next day.

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Ohio Donut Trail: Family Donut Shoppe

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 15, 2016

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There is one objective truth on the Ohio Donut Trail, just when you think you have everything covered (south of 70) a new spot appears unexpectedly. This one was scouted via social media. A key observation by the social media poster – a 24 hour donut shop!, caught my eye. As did the location, Londonderry, Ohio. I have traveled nearly all of Ohio but it turns out Londonderry is on a section of S.R. 50 I had never traversed. Doing some research, this spot is about 15 minutes east (ish) of Chillicothe. Doing more research, it seems than Londonderry is only about 50 minutes from Athens, which of course means O’Betty’s so in my odd travel logic – how about a day devoted to donuts and hot dogs. This oddly shaped travel triangle makes for a spiffy afternoon drive. It turned out to be a pretty good day for donuting to boot.

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Regular devotees to the Ohio Donut trail (not to be confused with another Ohio Donut trail which is newer and just covers a small portion of the state and might be construed as an upstart donut trail) will be pleased to know that Family Donut shop is easily in the top 6 best Ohio Donuteries encountered to date.

I knew pulling into the lot that I would love the place. It looked wholesome. The counter staff were friendly and the offerings were extensive. In addition to donuts (mostly of the cake variety but fritters, Long John’s and fancy donuts too) the place serves good coffee, hot dogs, a smoked sausage sandwich, ice cream, milkshakes and a few other things. There is a counter with a few stools and a scattering of tables as well as a 24 hour drive through window. This ensures that if one needs to rest from the drive there are ample options for sustenance and support.

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A dozen plus donuts of all varieties were purchased and sampled over the next nine hours. The apple fritter was exceptional. The stick donut was the best I have ever consumed anywhere. The other donuts were all fresh, of good quality, light, fluffy and satisfying. After returning home and taking some donuts with him, my tasting associate texted me within minutes “The plain cake donut may be the best I have ever had!”

Additional trips will be made to Family Donut Shop to continue this important research. On the way to Athens I discovered McArthur Ohio which also warrants more investigation so the two Route 50 towns may be linked together in a future post.

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Stay tuned for the continuing adventures on the original and best Ohio Donut Tail.

Family Donut Shop
35633 US-50, Londonderry, OH 45647
(740) 887-2120

Posted in donuts, ice cream, Ohio, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Ohio Donut Trail (Seasonal) Circle S Farms

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 21, 2015

Fatherhood and my stewardship of CMH Griffin took me south of I 70 to what turned out to be a mainstay of greater Grove City, Darbydale, Groveport and points beyond – Circle S. Farm.

The farm opens for seasonal events including Fall Fun Days, so it was decided by a power greater than me (Mrs. Gourmand) that we would be having fun.

Before I forget, here are two critical tips to better enjoy your trip.

1) Go early to beat the swarms – plans on lots of bees at Circle S. and plans for their numbers to rise as more people come and spill sweet things that attract more bees. And come early to beat the swarms of people and the long lines they bring because this place fills up fast. On a Sunday go before the church crowd gets out so you can have a pretty fun time to explore the farm on your own without having to dodge all the city and trailerslickers.

2) Buy a couple packages of the day old donuts, they are a great value and you will need supplies for the drive home.

When we arrived, I saw the sign below and opted to treat my next step as one of the choose your own adventure books of my youth. I decided my adventure would start with food by turning right towards food instead for left to the hay barn.

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My vision of food options was a paper plate with some donuts from a box on an old card table…that was very much not the case. There are two food areas at the farm located side by side. One section is set up like a concession stand at a high school football game – you can choose from bean soup, chicken and noodles, chili, hot dogs and cold apple cider. All except the cider are homemade. The chili was OK, the chicken and noodles were bland but featured very fresh and well cooked chicken.

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Next door, there was a small store and full service bakery with an array of goodies, mostly donuts. The bakery space is a pretty tightly run operation with more commercial equipment that I have seen in many year round bakeries. I sampled several of the items avalable but the must try are the donuts, they were all exceptional. In fact so exceptional as to warrant a listing in the Ohio Donut Trail. There were eight to ten varieties of donuts including the ubiquitous Ohio Fall flavor of pumpkin, a maple glazed donut, coconut, a powered sugar donut, several with nuts sprinkled on top and a few with chocolate glaze. Each version sampled was good while the pumpkin and maple were exceptional. The good news here is that you can go to the farm store directly and avoid admission fees so it is an option to limit your fun to just buying donuts from the shop and you can stock up by buying the day old donuts by the dozen at $4 per pop.

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Circle S Farm
Circle S Farms
9015 London Groveport Rd. (St. Rt. 665)
Grove City, OH 43123
United States
614-878-7980

Posted in bakery, donuts, Ohio, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

A Tale of Two Coney Island Joints in Mansfield (and a dialogue about Small Town Ohio)

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 20, 2015

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I was in Mansfield for business visiting Phoenix Brewing Company. I visited a brewery for work. Yes, that is pretty cool. I had only passed through Mansfield very briefly before. My inner nature is to explore any new place so I blocked out a little time to drive around downtown and get a feel for the place. About one minute into the journey I spied a sign for Famous Coney Island. Regular readers know that by the Code of Gourmand, I was obligated to stop – hungry or not. I did. I walked in 6 minutes before closing time (7 pm) to look around. The waitress (that would be the proper term here) asked me if I wanted to order. I said that I didn’t want to be a pain, so I would just look around. She said “sweety, go ahead and order it’s not problem at all.” There are not many places that would gladly welcome a customer that close to closing time. I also found out that the sign outside is somewhat new, the original sign was inside over the counter (from 1936) when coneys were 5 cents each (that is part of the reason they took the sign down).

Of course I ordered a coney. The coney dog is an institution in many towns, especially smaller towns and I always visit one when I can. There is culture to a Coney Island joint, the same as a diner. There are stools at a counter and a few booths. A simple menu and the banter of regulars served with the insights of the folks behind the counter that have been gained from decades slinging hot dogs or one liners at the same place. You can’t find that at many dining establishments. And those few places are disappearing every day.

The other thing I did was survey the menu for “the thing“. Just about every diner or Coney Island has an off beat dish that is unique to the place or a carry over from another time. A signature or iconic item that sets this place apart from any other place like it (and often there are a lot of place like it). Here the thing was pea salad. There was no description of what it was but I knew I was going to get it and probably enjoy it. The base of the salad was ice berg lettuce with a mayo based dressing, peas, shredded carrots, cheese, shredded cabbage and bacon bits. It tasted a bit like a seven layer salad. It was simple and it hit the spot. A comfort food classic.

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The place itself could have come from a Norman Rockwell painting. There was a small ice cream stall at the end. The walls were decorated with year books from the local high school, photographs from the old days, a soap box derby car, and the like. It was a decent meal. A respectable coney (no Oh Betty’s but what is) and a great pea salad. There are all types of culinary tourism. This type is where the food, while good, is secondary to the stories and the traditions. That is OK.

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I got back in my car, drove by a bakery that looked interesting, a place called the Squirrel Den (that sells candy and cards), an old school newspaper stand and a pizza place (Two Cousins) that claims to be the best in the world. All were closed. I would have liked to drop in to each. It took a minute to drive by those spots and that is when I saw something else on the other end of the square – Coney Island Inn. And oddly (it was after 7 pm) it was still open – until 8 pm, which in this case made it the Late Night Slice of Mansfield. I decided I needed another coney so I would know which was best.

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Coney Island Inn is a bit bigger, a lot less brighter and it has an in house Ohio Lottery sales counter. I grabbed a stool to survey the extensive menu – which may very well include every comfort food classic of the Midwest but I knew that I would only be having coney. I have standards, this was my second meal in 20 minutes. The dilemma I encountered was that they offer a regular coney and a King Coney (and foot long versions of each). It turns out the King Coney was a bigger, all beef hot dog and the coney was smaller and not all beef. I had to order both which I did with slaw and coney sauce. Then I asked the waitress if there was anything else I had to get and she suggested the rice pudding (with or without raisins and with or without whipped cream). The coneys were good (not Oh Betty’s good) and I would say better than what I had at Famous Coney Island (and less expensive). The rice pudding on the other hand was exceptional. I had good conversation with the other staff and the one other customer in the place (she sized me up pretty quick – “you’re not from around here are you, or you would know what to order”).

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I was glad I took a detour, I usually am.

So now for a short dialogue about small town Ohio. The impromptu adventure I had is something many people would avoid. Others would just write off these places or the places I could not get into as not worth their time because they figure the food is not up to their standard or because it is middle west bland. Sometimes the food might not be worth it, but again, each place has “the thing” and all have a good story or two that will connect you with the place. Both Coney Islands I visited have long histories in Mansfield and longer traditions.

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Actually Mansfield is not technically small town Ohio, but the town square sure feels like it so I’ll just use that as an excuse for my commentary.

Posted in Food For Thought, hot dogs, Ohio, Road Trip | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Lake Hope Lodge – Not your typical dining hall

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 7, 2015

For no good reason, when I think about a dining in a state-owned park, cafeteria quality food comes to mind. While that may apply to many dining options with government oversight, such is not the case of the Lake Hope Lodge Restaurant. Lake Hope is a state park located about 20 miles from Athens. I have journeyed there at least once per year since the mid 1990’s and it very quickly became my go to state park (after a fair amount of vetting). While my tent camping days are probably over, my first cabin experience was at Lake Hope and now an “Iron Furnace” Cottage is as close as I get to roughing it. I can’t say we visited the lodge in the center for the park for anything other than picking up keys but I did visit shortly after it burned down around 2005 or 2006. The lodge was rebuilt in 2012 with a lot of attention to detail considered through the construction. The lodge is largely built out of locally sourced wood and stone. The design and decor reflect the history and heritage of the area – with photographs throughout the lodge showcasing the people, places and structures of the Lake Hope area from the 1800’s to the 1950’s. The restaurant in the lodge is privately owned and operated with a result that is both appetizing and appropriate to the current culture of the area.

The proprietor/chefs are Matt Rapposelli and Eric Lee, both highly training chefs with plenty of experience including gigs at Ohio University and operating Big Chimney Bakery among other ventures. The menu reflects the locally sourced focus that residents and visitors to the area prefer. The beef for the burgers comes from the Ohio State farm, chips in the nachos are sourced from local favorite Shagbark Seed and Mill, Raven’s Glen Wines add an Ohio option to the wine list and craft beers include Great Lakes and Elevator Brewing Companies. The meats are smoked on site and pizzas (evening only) come fresh out of the wood-ired oven. The menu is not extensive but is “right sized” to have just enough options with a selection of appetizers, salads, burgers, sandwiches, pizzas and desserts as well as a non insulting kids menu to provide a good choice for any picky diner.

On our visit we tried the nachos featureing a mountain of Shagbark chips, cheese, smoked pulled pork, lettuce and a more diced tomato de gallo than pico de gallo with a side of sour cream. The nachos were good but they would have benefited from more “goo” either more cheese, a side of BBQ sauce, or something to add some wetness to the dryness (not a bad dry) to the chips and pulled pork.

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I tried the Smoked Turkey, Bacon and Swiss sandwich with: smoked Ohio turkey topped with giant slices of cured bacon and Swiss cheese on freshly made bread. The smoked turkey was exceptional with great flavor and juiciness. The sandwich would have benefited from more and stronger Ohio Swiss cheese. The side of hand cut fries were very good.

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Mrs. Gourmand opted for the Warm Brisket and Bleu salad (opting to sub in cheddar due to her knocked up state) which included: slabs of slow-smoked, Ohio-raised brisket served warm on romaine lettuce with cheese, red onion, carrots and tomato. Mrs. Gourmand and I thought the brisket was very well crafted – tender and flavorful without being overly smoked. CMH Tobias also gave the scraps two paws up when he tried them later. The salad came with a fresh baked roll which could easily be converted to a sandwich bun for some of the brisket.

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For those with challenged digestive systems and eating preferences, the lodge does have a good veggie burger and gluten free pizza crust. For those that like BBQ you can buy all of the meats by the pound to enjoy at home or for a party (or to pretend you are “roughing it” at your cabin.

In addition to very good food, the lodge offers a great view of the lake as well as several good walking trails to allow you to burn off the calories after a meal. The lodge is obviously popular with visitors to the park whose nearest dining options are 15 miles away. But the lodge is liked by locals as well who drive the 40 mile round trip from Uptown Athens and beyond to dine. In fact, I ran into Kelly Sauber (Marietta Brewing, Fifth Element Spirits and West End Cider House Fame) who confirmed that Athens, Meigs and Vinton County residents are more than happy to head to the lodge for a meal.

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Drive time from Columbus is about 1 hour and forty minutes (or 1 hour 29 minutes in my old Subaru which handled SR 278 much better than my current cars). If you are staying overnight and want to explore the area in more culinary depth I can also strongly suggest and endorse the following in Athens: O’Betty’s Hot Dogs, Casa Nueva, Bagel Street Deli, Millers Chicken, Jackie O’s Brewpub, Avalanche Pizza, Purple Chopstix, The Athens Farmers Market and West End Cider House (and yes, I often visit almost all of those places in one day).

Lake Hope Lodge
27331 State Route 278
McArthur, OH 45651
740-596-0601

lakehopelodge.com/menunew

Winter Hours (end April 1st):
Monday & Tuesday: CLOSED
Wednesday & Thursday: 11am-8pm
Friday & Saturday: 11am-9pm
Sunday: Brunch Buffet 10am-2pm

For more about the history of the rebuilt lodge and the origins of the restaurant, click -> HERE.

Lake Hope Lodge on Urbanspoon

Posted in Athens, BBQ, Locally Sourced, pizza, restaurants, Road Trip | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Roadtrip: Coccia House Ristorante & Pizzeria – Old School in Wooster

Posted by cmh gourmand on February 10, 2015

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As a citizen in good standing of the allied members of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, when Mary MacDonald asked me to moderate a panel on Effective Media Interaction, I said yes. When Mary was marketing director of the North Market and asked me to do anything, I said yes. That is a good habit to follow when Mary is involved. It has never steered me wrong. Now granted, Wooster in the winter might not be every person’s dream but in that it was the first Ohio Craft Brewers Convention paired with the first Ohio Hop Growers Convention how could I avoid standing in the middle of history?

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As is the per usual for me, when I am anywhere new and I have more than one hour for free time, I’m going to explore and see what the area has to offer and find an authentic spot to assimilate with the locals. While encamped at the local watering hole, the Great American Beer Festival awarding JAFB (which stands for Just Another Fucking Brewery – at least that is what I am told) Brewery I decided I had time to go on a food expedition, I had some initial research on where to get food but then I recalled I had an ace up the sleeve. I know Wooster’s Golden Girl, who now resides in Columbus ( she has a Ph.D and is a certified Policy Duder). I texted her to ask where to go and she replied Coccia House Pizza. This was promising because when I mentioned this to Cheryl Harrison, from Drink Up Columbus, who at that moment had allowed me to be part of her entourage, she too had been told Coccia House Pizza. Then, over the next 10 minutes, I saw several JAFB customers walk in with 2-4 boxes of Coccia House pizza. I then checked with the bartender and he too said……Coccia House Pizza. Finally, it was confirmed by one Angelo Signorino Jr. that in in 20 years of trips to Wooster his relatives had steered him to Coccia House many times. At this point, there was only one thing to do – call.

I called in an order for pick up (Coccia was only 1/2 mile away) and was given a one hour pick up time. I arrived 20 minutes early to observe this place in operation and following my standard checklist for likable small town Ohio haunts things looked promising before I even tasted a a slice of pie. Let us review the rankings on the S.C.L.S.T.O.H

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Restaurant located in an old house with multiple additions: Check

Parking lot full before 6 pm on a Thursday in poor weather conditions: Check

Pizza slingers instantly recognize me as a non local because I don’t know what to do when walking through the door: Check

Inside of house converted to restaurant is full of customers who every server knows by name while an endless string of pizza pick ups occur with each pizza slinger knowing each customer by both pizza preference and first name: Check

Photos of customer holding Coccia pizza boxes taken all over the world including places like Papua New Guinea: Check

Place is closed Tuesdays and open for carry out (Pizza, salads and Antipasta only) only on Sunday. Those non standard hours are the “You complete me” of small town haunts: Check.

Old menus and information about a place dating back to 1958 placed in the trophy case: Check

Three generations of ownership: Check

Ships pizzas around the world: Check

There appears to be at least one menu item that is not on the menu but known by all, pepperoni bread: Check

Noted on the menu: homemade bread and butter, anchovies (real) charcoal peppers: Check

Last and not least, with Wooster being just outside the Ohio Valley Pizza belt the place still abides by the rules of all Ohio pizza preferences: Topping on top of the cheese….or below, cheese charred, half-baked or unbaked: Check, Check and Checkmate!

At this point it did not matter what the pizza tasted like, this place was old school in all the right ways and I was glad I was putting money in their pockets to keep things going. During my 15 minutes waiting for my two large pepperoni pizzas I sat on a bench and watched these pizza slingers at work. They ranged from 16 to 22, working as an efficient team of four (one wearing sunglasses). The pizzas had big square slices of cheese on top. Pizzas were assembled in a frenetic yet focused manner. If pizza makers could rock stars these kids would have been the Rolling Stones.

Now on to the pizza. I quickly transported one pizza to JAFB while the other stayed in my car for delivery back to Mrs. Gourmand home in Columbus town. The first thing I noted was the weight of the pizza boxes. They were heavy from a high volume of cheese and a thicker than typical crust. I had one slice at the brewery and instructed the brewers to consume the rest (which is the only time I think they might listen to something I say). My initial response to my first bite, other than…TOOO HOTTT, was hmm. The topping to cheese ratio was proportionally pleasing. I thought the core crust was too crunchy. At this point it was time to head back to Columbus with the other pizza.

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Arriving home 90 minutes later. I found the pizza even more pleasing to my palate. The oil/grease had soaked into the crust making it more malleable for mastication. The rest of the pizza minus my assessment slice was placed on the refrigerator for the next day. The next morning, Mrs. Gourmand texted me to let me know she was very pleased with the sauces because it smelled and tasted like it had fresh tomatoes in it. Mrs. Gourmand is a bit of a hard ass when it comes to sauce so this boded well. I then spent the next two days assessing my pizza one slice at a time. I continued to find the cheese, the level of cheese char at the end of the crust ring, cheese ratios and pepperoni quality to be exceptional. Sometimes I liked the crust a lot and other times I just thought it was OK. The crust is about 3/4 inch thick. On the bottom these is a 3-4 mm thick browned crust and then from there to the top, the crust sometimes had a focacia quality and other times a dense, doughy toughness. The result, I like this pizza a lot but I have my feelings about the crust are still mixed. Not that I don’t like it but I don’t know how to feel about it. Doing some more research, I found the style in practice here is Abruzzi which is not too far from where Mrs. Gourmand’s old world people live, so that explained her satisfaction with the sauce. The only solution I can come to resolve my ambiguous feelings about the crust is to sample more. If you pass near Wooster, check this place out but be prepared for a long wait on the weekends. The wait is worth it and there is a lot to watch while you pass the time.

Coccia House Pizza on Urbanspoon

Posted in Ohio, pizza, restaurants, Road Trip | Leave a Comment »

 
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